For those who don’t pay close attention to news about domestic violence and sexual assault it might sound crazy to suggest that America allows abuse; but we have for a long time. The shocking news about three straight years with reduced life expectancy rates places increased importance on abuse issues.
Here are ten facts that prove America allows abuse. These would never happen in a society that takes abuse seriously.
New rules to protect campus rapists
We face an epidemic of sexual assault on campus. Colleges routinely violate reporting requirements and pressure victims not to file charges. Some schools actually work hard to protect athletes who might help them win games from the consequences of their sexual assaults. Betsy Devos, the Secretary of Education has responded to the pattern of atrocities and failure to take sex assaults seriously by developing new rules designed to help the alleged rapists and further discourage reports. This occurred despite increasing scientific evidence that the harm to victims is even greater than previously understood.
Over 600 children involved in contested custody issues murdered in 10 years
Contested custody overwhelmingly involve the most dangerous abusers who believe their partners had no right to leave. Family courts that rarely use current research or experts in domestic violence have repeatedly given the abusive fathers the access they needed to kill their children. Judges in the communities where these tragedies occurred were asked what reforms were created in response to the murder. The shocking answer was none because they assumed the local murder was an exception.
Family Courts gets most abuse cases wrong
Custody disputes involving abuse typically involve reports by protective mothers that are countered by fathers’ allegations of alienation. Although deliberate false reports by mothers occur less than 2% of the time, fathers win 70% of abuse cases and courts disbelieve child sexual abuse reports 94% of the time. As a result alleged abusers win custody in sexual abuse cases 85% of the time. The result of the flawed practices is that every year 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers and this destroys precious children’s lives.
Unscientific sexist theories given more influence in family courts than scientific research
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is a debunked theory created not from any research but only the personal beliefs, experience and bias of Richard Gardner. His beliefs include many public statements that sex between adults and children can be acceptable. ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is medical research from the CDC that demonstrates exposure to domestic violence and child abuse is much more harmful than previously understood. The Saunders’ Study from the U.S. Department of Justice demonstrates many and probably most judges, lawyers and evaluators do not have the specific knowledge they need to recognize and respond to domestic violence custody cases. Nevertheless the courts continue to allow the alienation theories to have more influence on the well-being of children.
Only 6% of rapes result in jail for the rapist
It is hard to imagine a response that makes it as safe as possible for rapists than present practices. Victims are often disbelieved or face unpleasant questions and attacks. Law enforcement does not make sexual assaults the priority it deserves. In many cases women experience pain and embarrassment to provide rape kits the police don’t bother to test. These flawed practices make sure rapists are free to hurt other women.
Bragging about sexual assault not a disqualification for Presidency
This is not about the boorish behavior of one man. Instead the response of a large part of the public confirms the willingness to tolerate sexual assault on women. Almost half of the public decided that supporting their favored candidate was more important than preventing sexual assault.
Congress struggles to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
This is a law seeking to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. When first considered, this was a non-controversial proposal as it should be. It is now difficult to pass because politicians who oppose efforts to prevent abuse can still be elected. Another confirmation that in the United States abuse is tolerated.
Supreme Court Nominee confirmed despite credible rape and sexual abuse reports
It is possible that Justice Kavanaugh could be innocent of the abuse reports. The point is that the partisan desire to put him on the court was used to justify a rushed hearing and incomplete investigation of credible abuse reports. Restrictions were placed on the FBI and many important witnesses were never interviewed. Another example that abuse prevention is not a high priority.
Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger honored for athletics despite credible reports of rape
They are by far not the only athletes to commit horrific sexual assaults. They were never convicted, as most rapists aren’t, but the evidence was strong. Innocent until proven guilty means they could not be jailed, but the public had every right to shun them. Their offensive behavior is now rarely discussed and less important events are focused on.
1/4 of our children will be sexually abused by age 18
In many ways this is the consequence of the other failures. Only in a society that tolerates abuse could scandals in the Catholic Church, Penn State, Olympic gymnastics and so many others continue for so long. The ACE Research confirms the frequency of child sexual abuse by eliminating any possibility that false reports inflate the numbers. Our unjustified willingness to disbelieve children and women make these tragedies commonplace. Public officials have failed to make preventing child sexual abuse the priority it deserves and the public lets them.
These ten examples are by far not the only examples of an outrageous response to abuse. I selected them because they illustrate our failure to take domestic violence and sexual assault seriously. None of this would be tolerated if preventing abuse was an important priority.
I appreciate that this is a painful and difficult subject. Judges, lawyers, evaluators, legislators, law enforcement and the public would like to believe these crimes are rare. It is easier to turn our heads than to have to feel the pain and address the offensive behavior.
The research demonstrates that the harm is far greater than previously recognized. The continued tolerance for these crimes perpetuates a cycle of abuse that continues from generation to generation. No decent society can tolerate this kind of behavior. For many centuries, this tolerance has undermined our ability to increase our life expectancy, improve the quality of life and allow our economy to grow to its full potential.
Only recently has the research been available to understand the full extent of the harm caused by this tolerance for abuse. Only recently have we learned that domestic violence and sexual assault are much more common than previously believed.
Dr. Vincent Felitti is right that prevention is the best use for his medical research. We lose nothing of value by giving prevention the priority it deserves. Continued tolerance of abuse costs us so much of value including our decency.
Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.